EAU CLAIRE — The upcoming $18.5 million renovation of L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library will grow its floor space for patrons, but the project will also dramatically cut down on its energy bills.
The Eau Claire library’s square footage is growing by about 8%, but an analysis done by Focus on Energy showed its power bills will shrink 62% through green design and energy-efficient systems included in the building project.
“That’s a big savings,” library Director Pamela Westby said. That amounts to projected savings of about $47,000 annually in the library’s utility bills, she noted.
A big part of the clean energy upgrades to the building is replacing its outdated heating and cooling equipment with a new geothermal system.
These systems tap into the consistent year-round temperature found under the earth’s surface — as opposed to a boiler for heat and air conditioner for cool air — to make the building comfortable for library users.
Geothermal systems still require some power to run their equipment, but the natural temperature found underground means they do not burn fossil fuels like a natural-gas furnace does.
These systems do come with significant up-front costs though, in particular the excavation for and installation of a series of buried pipes used to capture geothermal energy.
Ned Noel, senior city planner, said that due to the library’s limited amount of land, those loops of pipe will be installed vertically underneath the 400 block of Eau Claire Street. Those tubes are expected to reach a depth of 500 feet, he noted.
While the geothermal system has long been part of the project, both the city and library are looking to reduce the cost for it.
“This was considered from the beginning,” Noel said. “It’s going to happen. We’re just looking for additional funds to offset the cost.”
During its Tuesday afternoon meeting, the City Council will vote on allowing Noel to apply for a grant from a Wisconsin Public Service Commission program to pay $200,000 to $250,000 of the geothermal system’s cost.
The city hasn’t yet received price quotes for the system, but Noel said that grant might cover a third to a half of the costs.
But he also noted that the PSC’s Energy Innovation Grant Program is quite competitive and gets applications from other cities, school districts, businesses and tribal governments all seeking a piece of the $7 million available from it this year.
The city, which already contributed $11.5 million toward the library project, is committing $200,000 from a fund it created specifically for clean energy projects toward the geothermal system.
That fund is part of Eau Claire’s goal to have the city run entirely on clean energy by 2050, and public buildings are seen as an important starting point.
“Our aspiration is to try to make the building net zero energy,” Noel said of the library.
However, he notes that using geothermal energy for the building’s heating and cooling alone won’t reach that mark.
The library project’s design does have other features in it to help chip away at energy use and make the building more environmentally friendly.
Windows added to current building walls and incorporated into the new third floor are intended to maximize the amount of daylight that comes into it, reducing the amount of artificial light needed. The renovation project also includes lights that will shut off if sensors tell them that people are not actively using that part of the building.
While solar panels are not included in the renovation project to help with the building’s electrical needs, the third floor is designed to be prepared for them. Westby said solar panels were not included in the current project to keep it in its budget, but the library wanted to make that possible in the future.
Aside from lower monthly bills, the energy-saving design features also make the library qualify for a $53,700 incentive toward its building project from Focus on Energy.
In addition to being energy efficient, the project is also intended to make the building more ecological by adding plant life. Currently a tar-covered roof, the area that will become the terrace outside of the new third floor will include large planters and vegetation.
The library renovation and expansion project is scheduled to start in May and finish in fall 2022. During that time, the Eau Claire library will be temporarily located in a building with United Health, 2725 Mall Road, with storage in the former Pawn America, 2615 Mall Drive.
The library is in the process of raising $7 million out of the project’s $18.5 million budget. By the end of 2020, that ongoing fundraising campaign had secured about $4.1 million in donations.